Beacon’s Own Nerds with Knives: Emily and Matt Clifton

Interview by Julie Chibbaro

Beacon, N.Y. is a small but fertile city. We have lots of fresh food and creative people. When those two come together, the results can be magical.

Emily and Matt Clifton are two such creative people. They’re not professional chefs, but they love to cook, and they’ve managed to share their love of cooking with a whole lot of people through instagram and their website, nerdswithknives, and now, through a new cookbook, Cork and Knife , which focuses on cooking with booze!


I found a moment to catch up with them and ask a few questions. We’ll get to hear more from them on October 13, at our Get Lit Beacon literary salon at Oak Vino in Beacon (5-8pm).

GLB: So, you wrote a cookbook! Where did the idea for this come from?

E & MC: We were actually approached by the publishers, Page Street, who have developed a pretty solid range of cookbooks and other non-fiction publications. I think they do a lot of outreach to established food bloggers where they feel the style would work well in book format. We went through some ideas over phone calls and after one conversation where a lot of our ideas were gently rejected (mostly because they already had similar books in the planning) we were asked if we had any other thoughts and, after we shared a slightly panicked look, Emily said “well . . . we do cook a lot with booze” and that was that.

GLB: How did your audience find out about you?

E & MC: It was a slow process! The first year or so of writing for the blog, our audience was pretty much just our mums and any polite friends we could convince to visit the site and leave a nice comment. We weren’t taking it seriously at all so we posted very sporadically (a no-no), didn’t really have any kind of theme (another nope), and our photos were pretty terrible (not a great look for a food blog).

Around the second year as we got more into it, we began to find our voice, and Emily upped her photography game so we also began to develop a visual style. We learned a lot about the web development and all the social media things that you need to do in order to expand your reach. At one point we got a ping from a forum in Hungary that linked to one of our recipes and there appeared to be a very energetic conversation about it. We still don’t know what they were saying, but it was a lovely signal that we’d expanded beyond the circle of people who could pick us out of a line up.

GLB: Do you follow any other cooking shows? What are some faves?

E & MC: We would (and still do) watch anything with Anthony Bourdain. He had such a unique way of seeing deep into the heart of so many communities through their food. He showed us that food encompasses everything about a culture; what it values, what it finds pleasurable, what its politics are.

A Chef’s Life on PBS is great. We love Vivian Howard and made a special trip to visit both her restaurants in Kinston, NC, last year. It’s less a ‘cooking’ show than it is a portrait of a talented and charming chef going back to the food of her roots, specifically eastern North Carolina. She visits farmers, cooks with elderly ladies who’ve been making the same dish for 60 years and stresses out about having two very busy restaurants. It’s wonderful. Similarly, Mind of a Chef, also on PBS, showcases a wide range of creative chefs and their behind-the-scenes recipe development.

Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” was an incredible explosion of knowledge, passion and just throwing her heart into cooking. She’s one of those people who is so enthusiastic about what she’s doing that it’s infectious. You can’t want watch her and not become a better cook. Or at least a better eater.

We’re excited to come and talk with you at Get Lit!

Matt and Emily live in Beacon, New York, with their dog Arya; cats Trixie and Ziggy; and variable numbers of chickens (the count is currently three).

A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent

By Linda Pratt

It’s always interesting when people ask what I do professionally. I tell them that I’m a literary agent, and, more often than not, the next question is: What publisher do you work for? This very question shows me how little most people really know about the down and dirty parts of an agent’s day. As an agent, my job is to be an advocate for my clients, which can be anything and everything, and trust me, over my 20 plus years in the business that covers a lot! Agents negotiate contracts, act as editorial partners before we submit a book to publishers (we work with publishers, not for them!), are liaisons between our clients and their editors at the publishing house, manage publishing schedules, sell subsidiary rights such as translation, audio, merchandising, motion picture/tv rights, and many other things that crop up.


The most frustrating thing for me is the misconception that many aspiring creators have, which is that they think a literary agent is required to reach editors at many publishing houses. They also think that literary agents have the luxury of choosing any clients they want. There are a lot of people who dream of publishing a book: some who just decide that writing a book is on their bucket list and today’s the day, and others who see writing as a craft and have spent time honing it. The truth is, the submission process to agents is democratic: every writer has an equal opportunity to submit their work for representation. But, every agent has a limit as to how many clients they can fully service. They have to chose carefully, to decide which clients will benefit from their very best efforts. The same is true with the publishing houses where agents submit client work. And the dynamic changes once an agent decides to take on a client. Once each side agrees to work with one another, the agent then works for that author or illustrator. What does that mean? Well, our agency specializes in children’s books, so here are some of the things I did today:

I responded to an inquiry from a person who wanted to translate one of our client’s works into Scottish Gaelic. I had to let the person know that we cannot grant that right to an individual since publishers typically employ their own translators. We could not hinder a potential publisher by forcing them to use a translator not of their choice.

I received a contract for review, which I compared line by line with the last contract that this author/illustrator had with this publisher to make sure it matched, as well as incorporated all of the specific terms for this particular deal.

I was a second pair of eyes to review a colleague’s draft of a contract to one of her client’s works for Korean translation rights in hardcover, audio version, and e-book rights.

I corresponded with a client about the wording for a deal announcement of the sale of her picture book manuscript in Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf (the industry’s leading trade magazine’s online bi-weekly edition that focuses on children’s books). This is shared with the editor for the publisher’s approval and also the illustrator and their agent, if applicable, before being submitted for publication. With the same client, I also asked if she’d heard from her editor on another picture book project as editorial notes were due to be sent to her some weeks back. She hadn’t heard, so now I need to nudge the editor again.

I shared happy news with another client that his sales on the Chinese editions of his trilogy continue to go like gangbusters. We then talked on the phone about the idea of approaching a Chinese film company to license film rights (the work had been under a film option in the U.S., which expired), and we also talked about approaching his Chinese publisher about taking him to China for an author tour. Then I responded to a contracts manager at a U.S. publisher regarding some outstanding issues on a contract for that client.

I emailed a different client to let her know that the editor to whom we had submitted her picture book manuscript last week with one of our illustrators attached responded very quickly that she loved the project, and it sounded like we might have an offer this week . . . although it always remains just a potential offer until it actually comes.

I received another rejection on a project that I just adore, and for the life of me cannot understand why no one has snapped it up. It’s head scratching . . . and heartbreaking to me.

Along the way, I checked in online banking to see if any monies had posted to our client escrow account for monies due. I would record those in our accounting system, and cut checks to the client the next day.

And I ended my day writing an editorial letter to yet another client about clarifying the emotional motivation of a groundhog that is the star of a manuscript involving homes in a playground and campground.


So, I did not have any glamorous lunches at restaurants, nor did I have the phone stuck to my ear demanding things in high octaves. I did a lot of things that were more mundane, and while tomorrow will be completely different, it will likely still be more ordinary than you think. I love my job, because as John Lennon said Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” or, in this case, life is what happens when you play a small part in something that has a profound effect on a reader you’ll likely never know, and that’s pretty spectacular!

Observing the Living World: Interview with Melanie Challenger

By Julie Chibbaro

In my day job, I work as an editor for a bioethics research institute called The Hastings Center, in Garrison, N.Y. I spend much of my day reading the thoughts and analyses of multidisciplinary scholars who offer possible solutions to some of our most difficult ethical problems, like how to best face the technology that can change babies before they’re born, or how to deal with human research issues in an increasingly corporatized medical environment. I often get to meet interesting people at work, both staff and visiting scholars.

My author guest today is Melanie Challenger, who will visit the Center in November.


She is one of those unusually talented people: a singer, a writer, a researcher, a philosopher. She is relentlessly curious about nature and science, and manages to incorporate her passions into a field of study that is very much her own. I had the chance to ask her a few questions about her work, her visit to the Center, and some of her adventures.

GLB: What is the connection for you between the arts and science and nature?

MC: I have sort of wandered off course and ended up accidentally in what can loosely be called environmental philosophy. I didn’t train in philosophy, something that I was very anxious about for a while. Now I see it as its own quiet advantage. I began life as a student of English literature and language, and went from university into the arts, assuming I would be a creative writer. I wrote and published early poems, which led to collaborations with composers as a librettist. During my teens and twenties, I had also trained as a singer, and worked in education departments in classical music, so that was very much in my blood. Now, whatever muse I once had has also wandered off, although I continue to work in music. But this early training has allowed me a fleshed out understanding of different forms of human expression, and also a clearer idea of where one form ends and another must be taken up. When I began to battle with creative writing, I realized that I wasn’t anywhere near as interested in character or narrative as I was in ideas. I was always using writing to try to understand concrete ideas about what the world is and what relationship we can have with reality. It took me a long time to realize that – in my case – I couldn’t get the arts to sharpen the lens hard enough on the subjects and questions that interested me. Perhaps this was lack of talent. If I’d been Kafka, such failures might have been fewer. But even Kafka can only offer a prism through which questions can be shattered and given witness. When it comes to making real headway in very gnarly questions like what is a category like wildness? On what basis might it have value? The kinds of questions I realized I was desperately seeking answers to, nonfiction offered an easier way to lay bare some tentative answers. Initially, I dipped my toe in using creative nonfiction, which is really personal essay. This is a very effective way of reaching people with complex science or philosophy, who don’t necessarily want to read through technical ideas. But even this was a distraction for me. And while my latest book does contain the presence of me and the odd anecdote, I have tried to find a style now that is both accessible but much more directly about the ideas. So I guess what I’m saying is that the creative arts, humanities like philosophy, and science are often all interested in similar fundamental questions about the nature of reality. But how they can answer the questions are necessarily different. They are not alternatives to one another. Each mode places limits on what can be understood or expressed. But they are leaky containers, with the ideas from each freely flowing from one to the other, influencing the content of each. My only regret is that we still live in a world where science is reported as if it has anything to say about meaning. Science can give us some of the content for meaning, but the job of making sense of the value of science lies squarely with the arts. Sorry . . . that’s an awfully long and still impoverished answer!

mel book.jpg

GLB: What made you want to travel?

MC: There are two reasons I like to travel, one nakedly selfish and the other more sensible. The first is that I am a keen amateur naturalist and I derive an immeasurable amount of pleasure (and, I hope, some insights) from spending as much time as possible observing the living world. I’m lucky that I live in the middle of a forest down several miles of rough track. My neighbors are goshawks, hares, butterflies, stouts, adders. The only visible house is several miles away. We own only about 11 acres but we’re sat in around 30,000 acres, and even though this is managed forest, it still means that every day is an observation of the nonhuman world. But when I try to develop ideas about value or hypotheses about human nature or whatever, I think it makes an enormous difference to have at your hands a more intimate experience of other species and natural processes, their behavior and constraints. But I also travel to see people. A portion of my work is probably what we would call an anthropology of science. I have always been compelled not just to read other people’s technical papers but to go and talk with the person who wrote them (assuming they’re alive). I like to see the environments in which ideas are formed and the individual personalities doing the writing. This is what journalists also do, but in my case, it’s not about giving a personal touch to the story but a more specific, ethnographic way of making sense of cultures of knowledge. I continue to find this a powerful way of seeking out what information might help in answering very broad or complex questions. But it also can help prevent someone like me, who is doing very interdisciplinary work without being an expert, from impoverishing another person’s ideas or woefully misunderstanding them.

GLB: Can tell us about your work at The Hastings Center?


MC: I recently started as a member of the UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Bioethics is something that fascinates me, because it lies at the intersection of practical applications like laws and ethics, and the analysis of ideas about the life sciences. But I have really noticed, as I’ve worked more in bioethics, that environmental philosophers are curiously underrepresented. Now this, to me, is both curious and very important. There are panels working on subjects like, for instance, gene-editing or gene-drive for malaria eradication (via mosquito control) or synthetic biology, as another example, that have almost no expertise or even, in some cases, interest in the fundamental intellectual history that might shed light on questions of nature, ecology, or the value of other species. I am really passionate about trying to correct this, and looking at consensus building in philosophy will be the focus of my time at the Center.


Melanie Challenger studied English literature and language at Oxford University. She published a sequence of poems, Galatea, which won a 2005 Eric Gregory Award and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her first nonfiction book, On Extinction: How we became estranged from nature was published in 2011. It was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best nonfiction books of 2012. She was the recipient of a Darwin Now Award for her research among Canadian Inuit and the Arts Council International Fellowship with British Antarctic Survey for her work on the history of whaling. Her latest book, How To Be Animal: A new history of what it means to be human, is forthcoming in 2020.


Are ‘Bad Women’ Characters Really the Author? Interview with Laura Sims

By Julie Chibbaro

I was fortunate to share the stage with author and librarian Laura Sims at a local reading event (check out the ongoing Spring Street series), and I happened to fall in love with Laura for this reason: She seemed really humble and genuine, despite the content of her fantastically successful recent novel Looker. She didn’t seem at all like the female stalker at the center of Looker.


I was intrigued by her outward vibe versus her character’s inner evil thoughts/deeds, so I asked her a few questions about how a “nice person” novelist pulls off such an authentic ‘bad woman’:

GLB: You seem like such a nice person. What does it take (i.e., what has to happen inside you) to enable you to write such a disturbed character as your female stalker?

LS: Ha! That’s a great question. My emphasis would be on the word “seem” — I “seem” like a nice person. But am I really? And how “nice” would I be if my carefully ordered life were to implode? One of the things I wanted to explore in the novel was the idea that many of us who seem to be fine and functioning adequately in society may be just one tragic occurrence away from losing our grip on reality and our place in the world. And where do we go from there? How do we react? My narrator obviously has issues that underlie her outsized, inappropriate reactions to misfortune, but she is also an Everywoman, someone who has gotten by pretty well until now. While I do find her disturbing, I also empathize with her — quite deeply. Even when she’s doing Very Bad Things. I’m also fascinated by the idea of women doing Very Bad Things, because we’ve been programmed through the centuries to stifle those urges, even though we have them. It was liberating to let this woman loose on the world, to follow her where she’d go, let her urges take her where they would. Megan Nolan, a columnist for The New Statesman, wrote a great piece recently about Looker and the female gaze. In it she says, “It sometimes feels that in service of basic feminist gains, women have had to assume the role of superior beings: wholesome, sane, moderate. ‘There would be no wars if women were in charge!’ we say, hopefully, alongside other glib phrases. Sometimes I want to scream that women are just as capable of being weird, lazy and violent as men, even if they haven’t historically been able to show it. It doesn’t flatter me to brush over my capability for violence, it dehumanizes me.” I love this, and wholly agree with it. Why should women always have to be so damn nice and well-behaved? And yet, I am a nice woman. And a generally well-behaved one. But I do like to explore the full human spectrum on the page — especially the darker side of that spectrum.


GLB: You came from a poetry background. How/why did you take this leap into fiction?

LS: Well, I started out, as a kid, writing both poetry and fiction, and then sometime during high school I decided I was a poet and became committed to that identity from then on. Then in my thirties, I felt that I wanted to write fiction again. I didn’t begin writing fiction until right after my son was born, but once I’d started it became the focus of most of the (limited) time and energy I had for creative pursuits. I don’t think there’s much of a dividing wall between poetry and prose, though — it seems like more of a permeable boundary. And my writing in either genre tends to be driven by the same things: voice, idea, emotion, atmosphere, and sound. The sound of the line is very important to me, whether I’m writing poetry or prose. In some ways, the novel is just an extension of the poem — it’s a very long poem, and one shaped by elements that don’t regularly appear in poetry, like plot, character, and setting (with exceptions, in both genres). Sometimes it seems like it’s all about the line breaks, and what those do to the words on the page, how they limit you or allow you to expand. I guess, in my thirties, I felt like I wanted to expand beyond the line breaks I had loved and lived by in poetry, and see where that led me.

GLB: As you’ve gone around talking about your books, have any stalkers approached you to confess their inner obsessions?

LS: Thank goodness, no! But I have been interested in the varying reactions to this character, which range from “I totally identified with her” to “I can’t stand her, she’s annoying and narcissistic.” I’m glad she and the book have provoked strong reactions in readers — passionate engagement is always better than indifference!

Laura Sims is the author of Looker, a debut novel. She has published four books of poetry, most recently Staying Alive, and is the editor of Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson. She lives outside of New York City with her family.

We are so fortunate that Laura will be our December guest!

An Eye on the Water: Interview with Ronnie Farley

by Julie Chibbaro

You’ve seen her shock of white hair like an aura of wisdom. If you live in Beacon, or anywhere along the New York State Watershed, you’ve seen Ronnie Farley. She is a known entity, a professional photographer, a published author, and a person who very much cares about our environment, though sometimes she can be invisible, like any great tender of things. She was also one of my sister’s best friends, a woman who cared for my sister with fearless love to the last days of her life.


Ronnie Farley’s latest project can be summed up in one word: Water. She dives deeply into that subject with writings, a new set of photographs, and long walk down NY’s aqueducts, a project to raise awareness about where our water comes from. On a break in her walking schedule, I was able to ask her a few questions about her work, both past and present:

GLB: You have published a number of books that combine your photos and stories. Can you talk a bit about how you get your ideas for these projects?

RF: By 1985, I had been living in the East Village over three years, working at the copy desk and as a photo-stringer at Associated Press, bartender at CBGB’s Hardcore Matinees, and as a bookkeeper for both a crummy upper east side nightclub that became Chippendale’s, and later at Tommy Boy Records. I was photographing the streets and the rich mix of music, art and performance going on concurrent with the AIDs crisis and gentrification. Much of this work is published in Diary of a Pedestrian: A New York Memoir.

In late autumn that year, a friend in my building told me about her lawyer brother defending Navajo people in Arizona against eviction for coal and uranium mining. I began working with the New York City Native community on media outreach for the Navajo and in the summer of 1986, lived out on the reservation for the upcoming eviction deadline, which was eventually canceled for the time being.

The Navajo are a matrilinear society, and so many powerful women and their families were coming through from different tribes to support them. By power I mean the strength of self-possession—of being so grounded in your being/spirit and purpose that you are unstoppable. A power within your body that holds space like a Giant Sequoia. A power whose articulation of words are profoundly poetic, yet razor sharp. A power of love for the Earth so visceral, you are Her embodied.

These women were on the front lines of their own communities—from fighting multinational corporations, to domestic violence and teenage suicide. Through time, I began interviewing and photographing some of them for my first book Women of the Native Struggle: Portraits and Testimony of Native American Women.


Women are the backbone of any society anywhere, and Indigenous peoples are holding up and protecting the natural world everywhere.

Cowgirls: Contemporary Portraits of the American West was a result of a woman seeing my Native images in a frame shop when I came in to pick them up. She said I should do a book on cowgirls and that I should know about her mother who started the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Hereford Texas. The rest came together.

I found the cowgirls to be equally strong and inspiring, but in a different way. They put me to work so I got to fully understand ranching life. I prepared sheep for shearing and participated in a cattle drive. I also followed the rodeo circuits across country: the Women’s Rodeo, the Black Rodeo, the Indian Rodeo. There is even a Gay Rodeo circuit. In both these books, the words belong to the women photographed.

New York Water Towers came about because I was spellbound by their otherworldly presence amid all the glass, mortar and steel.


Once I discovered their purpose I became obsessed with photographing them. My previous book projects made me acutely aware of water issues, so a deeper sense of urgency grew beyond the beauty I was seeing. Many New Yorkers do not know what the water towers are, or that 90% of their water comes from the Catskill Mountains 100 miles north. Returning home from trips out west inspired me to research NYC’s water system and the astronomical engineering feat of aqueducts and dams. Entire communities upstate were eliminated to create reservoirs to support the vertical expansion of New York City, which was only possible because a barrel-maker figured out how to use gravity for water storage, making the humble water tower the critical key component to New York’s water.

GLB: How do these relate to your new project? 

RF: I have continued photographing and interviewing Native women over the past two decades with the sole focus on water. I have also been exploring ways to further the conversation about water and New York’s water supply.

The pipeline protest at Standing Rock came about in 2016 and my experience there further cemented some ideas I was having about water. Watching people in prayer—both young and old, get sprayed with fire-hoses reminded me of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Police from several states over were driving to North Dakota in their local municipal vehicles, getting paid overtime to suit up robo-cop style to ‘defend’ a multi-national corporation against U.S. citizens practicing their given right to protect their drinking water. The water protectors were rounded up, zip tied (their arms numbered with black sharpies) and placed in large cages at a local Bismarck facility, with little heat. This further sealed my commitment to water.

We are experiencing a serious shift in this country and you have to place yourself on the frontlines, whatever ‘the frontlines’ translates to be for you. For me, taking pictures is not enough. I think water is a great leveler. It is something all life depends upon and it is something that does not recognize politics, gender, race or creed. It is the very core of life itself. I wanted to use water as a bridge between diverse ways of thinking, and I wanted to fully comprehend the properties of water as a living entity—from the molecule to the metaphysical. So I decided to just physically put myself out there. Inspired by the Anishinabe women Nibi Walkers of Minnesota, I decided to talk to people about water by walking. I received a grant from the Catskill Watershed Corporation for my photo documentation/water-walk called Know Your Water(shed). With the intention of raising awareness about New York’s water supply and the supporting communities within the watershed/aqueduct routes, I collected water with a few friends in a copper bucket at New York City’s northernmost reservoir in Schoharie County on April 27, and have been walking it 150 miles down to the city, following the Catskill and Old Croton Aqueduct routes. I’ve been documenting the walk with the intent of producing a book and a short film of imagery stitched together from mountain to city. Employing my previous technique of portraits and quotes from individuals, I have also been taking portraits and interviewing people en route as well as the co-walkers who join me.

With Laura Potter

GLB: Does your visual art feed your writing? In what ways?

RF: The two have always gone hand-in-hand for me, starting with receiving a thesaurus and camera on my 10th birthday. I have been shooting and journaling since then. As a photographer, I have an innate sense of detail and description simply because I often have to assess a situation—the light, composition, mood, all within split-second timing. With photography, I feel the image should be able to stand on its own, with or without text.

But usually the story behind the image is equally compelling. Much of what I have experienced I cannot and would not photograph—the ceremonies of Native communities, the private dramas, the hardships, a lot of death. I write all that down. Words can take you places that images cannot and vice-versa. I think it all depends upon what you are trying to convey and which is the best medium for sharing that message or experience.

I am thrilled with the swell of writers, writing workshops, reading groups and open mic sessions taking place here in Beacon. It is a comfortable place for me to explore these avenues as another form of expression. Through others sharing their knowledge and talent, my world has opened up to the complex language nuances of poetry, prose and memoir, allowing a sense of freedom in sharing my experience. This has given fresh breath to the possibilities within my work—past, present and future. As an artist it is important to always keep evolving and pushing beyond one’s safety zone. There is where the magic happens. I am looking forward to what will result a year from now from the seeds planted today. I have the utmost gratitude towards this community I call home for its unwavering support of my work for over a decade. Beacon truly is a special place.

On Friday, July 12, Ronnie will present Know Your Water(shed) for the first time and share stories from her water-walk, including the history and infrastructure of New York City’s water system, and experiences with Native American communities that have shaped her world view about water and inspired this project.

Beacon Yoga Center, 464 Main Street.

Doors open at 7:30 pm

Event is free and appropriate for all ages

Ronnie Farley is an award-winning fine-art and editorial photographer whose published works include; Women of the Native Struggle: Portraits and Testimony of Native American Women (Crown), Cowgirls: Contemporary Portraits of the American West (Crown/ Thunder’s Mouth Press), Diary of a Pedestrian: A New York Photo Memoir (Third Eye Press), New York Water Towers (KMW studio) and Ghost Plane (Third Eye Press). 

Farley’s books have been critically acclaimed by The New York Times and The Washington Post, and featured on NPR’s 360. Her photography has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, and is included in the collections of the Museum of the City of New York, The National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland. Her images have also appeared in Rolling Stone, USA Today, Sierra Magazine, Western Horseman and The Sunday Times of London. 

In addition to her own photography, Ronnie Farley’s career includes working for the Associated Press in New York City over a span of twenty years as a photographer, a photo librarian, and a national photo editor. She currently resides in Beacon, New York.

Her books are available at No. 3 Reading Room & Photo Book Works in Beacon and online queries: